On July 2, 2019, Brett and I were served with lawsuit paperwork from our neighbor and for the past year, we’ve been in a legal battle over land.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Back in 2017, we were required by the county to have a survey done on our property. We had to plead our case to the county as well as the township, in order for them to approve the building of the garage. You can read all about that HERE.
Well, the survey results showed that the easement on the north side of our property was actually in the wrong place. It was on the south side of the property line and should have been on the north. You can read all about that one HERE.
So, that brings us to spring of 2017. Shortly after finding out about said property lines, Brett walked over to our neighbor (the one who uses the easement to get to her property) and asked if she’d be willing to move the easement to where it should be OR, even better, move it to the north side of her property, and we’d cover half the costs of the new build. That specific strip of land was completely flat and just needed a few trees to be removed. From our perspective, it seemed like a no-brainer. She’d have a driveway on HER own property and wouldn’t have to deal with any easement problems in the future.
She refused on all accounts – said she was going to talk to her title insurance company and let us know what the next steps would be. It was in her title that she had to have access to her house, so she was going to them to help settle the matter.
We heard from her every few months, with no real updates – just that her title insurance company had brought in a lawyer and said lawyer would be reaching out to us soon.
Fast forward to October 2018 and I finally get a call from her lawyer. He wanted to come out and see the property for himself. He also asked if we’d entertain the idea of being bought out so the easement could stay where it was. I said probably not but let’s discuss further.
The lawyer came out November 2018 and talked with Brett. Again, he asked if we’d be open to getting paid for the land and Brett refused.
In April 2019, we received a formal offer of $5000 for the easement to remain where it was. And, if we didn’t agree to the terms, we were going to be sued.
Brett and I talked about accepting the offer but at the end of the day, realized the land is more valuable to us. And, what if a new neighbor moves in and they have even heavier traffic than what she does? If we have an opportunity to get the driveway moved, we decided we’d go all-in. Here’s the positive of having two extremely stubborn people married – when we actually agree on something, neither one of us will budge 😛
So, we let the deadline come and go and reached out to our title insurance company and submitted a claim at the end of May. We heard back from them towards the end of June that they wouldn’t cover a suit. So, if she did decide to move forward, we’d have to pay everything out of pocket. Good thing we bought title insurance for events like this – what a waste, huh?
Thankfully, Brett happened to be out on a boy’s fishing trip around this time and was able to get contact information for a Minneapolis property lawyer. – so that was one less thing we had to search for.
And that brings us up to the lawsuit date – July 2, 2019 a sheriff came to our door and served us with lawsuit paperwork.
How exactly can we be sued for something that is ours? Oh, great question! I am so glad you asked.
Here’s what she sued us for:
An order, adjudging that Plaintiff is the owner of an exclusive prescriptive easement for vehicular and pedestrian ingress and egress, over, on and upon that portion of the Wittman Property as described and depicted in the Survey as the “proposed driveway easement.”
An award of Plaintiff costs and disbursements incurred herein
For such other and further relief as the court deems just and equitable
So basically, she stated that the easement was hers, we would owe her the costs she’d incur in the lawsuit and we’d owe her anything else the court would deem necessary.
And that my friends, is what we’ve been battling for the past year.
We had initial court proceedings mid-August and it was determined that if we couldn’t come to an agreement by the end of October, we’d be going to court spring 2020. And if you didn’t know, court is even more expensive lawyer fees – ours said to expect to pay around $15,000 if that happened. Wonderful, nothing like the thought of needing to come up with an extra 15k to add to the already stressful event.
The rest of August, all of September and October included a lot of back and forth – her going back to the original offer of money for land, our lawyers researching the legitimacy of her claiming rights to the property, us offering that she should move the driveway to where we asked originally (two years prior). The lawyers asked for an extension since it was clear we were not going to come to an agreement by the end of October – it was granted.
We were at a standstill with ‘No’ being thrown around like confetti.
Towards the end of October, her + her lawyers wanted us to pay for a surveyor to come back out and check the property lines. Someone had removed the stakes so they wanted the lines visible again. What little patience we had left completely ran out. We had already spent $1500 on a surveyor two years ago and there was no way in hell we’d pay for one again.
More back and forth ensued and I think her title company ended up paying for a new surveyor. I believe he came out late November/early December because I have a distinct memory of Brett and I peeking out the windows, watching it all happen and there was definitely snow on the ground.
Anyways, the survey results were finalized and at the end of November, she apparently had a Come to Jesus moment and a complete change of heart. She agreed to our offer of moving the driveway perpendicular to where it was, pending the approval of the person who owns a small strip of land between her house and the land that the driveway would be on.
Let’s just pause here and reflect on these property lines. Originally, our property, her property and the neighbor to the north of us was all owned by the same family. I don’t know how they decided on property lines because it just doesn’t make sense. They decided it was a good idea to give our neighbor a long strip of land leading out to the road, but not have that connect to her house.
After that verbal confirmation, we had to play the waiting game.
She needed to reach out to the neighbor who owned that strip of land and see if he’d be willing to sell it. She needed to apply for a new driveway location with the county and she needed to get confirmation from a construction company to dig in the new driveway.
Between December and March, we received an update from our lawyer every few weeks letting us know everything was still on track. The neighbor approved the sale of the small piece of land, the county approved her to move the driveway and she was able to connect with another neighbor who is a contractor, to build the new driveway.
Thankfully, we had a very, very warm spring so she was able to get construction going in March and has been using the new driveway since the beginning of May.
Last week, Brett received a call from our lawyer stating that everything is finalized and signed – she’d be sending over the final agreement (and our final invoice) soon.
And almost one year to the exact day, this whole mess is finally over. And just over four years since we first applied for that garage permit – funny to think that it all started because we wanted to build a garage.
That being said, I think we’re both still processing – especially since the result is exactly what we had proposed three years ago.
When I sit and actually think about it, I get frustrated. We could have saved ourselves a lot of stress, not to mention the thousands in lawyers fees, if she would have cooperated from the beginning. But, such is life and it never seems to go the way you had planned.
Thankfully, it’s over and we learned a few good lessons: A) neighbors can really suck big time, and B) for the love of all things, make sure your title insurance covers easements. 🙂
All our best,